Theresa Harris: A Lady in Waiting

African American actress Theresa Harris (1906-85) was both gorgeous and highly trained, but given the tenor of the times, was rarely given the opportunity to show all that she could do onscreen.

Having studied at UCLA Conservatory of Music and Zoellner’s Conservatory of Music, and having gotten stage experience with the Lafayette Players, she landed her first film role, a cafe singer in Thunderbolt in 1929. Over 100 screen credits followed. She was normally a bit player, portraying maids and the like, though she often had had memorable moments and scenes in some very high profile movies. She is Thelma Todd’s maid in the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers (1932), a ladies’ room attendant in Mae West’s first film Night After Night (1932), Jean Harlow’s friend in Hold Your Man (1932), one of the performers in the “Petting in the Park” number in Gold Diggers of 1933, Barbara Stanwyck’s best friend in Baby Face (1933), Ginger Rogers’ maid (who sings for her on the radio) in Professional Sweetheart (1933), and Bette Davis’s maid in Jezebel (1937). She plays similar roles in Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933), Go Into Your Dance (1935), Broadway Melody of 1936, Banjo on My Knee (1936), The Women (1939), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940, opposite Eddie “Rochester” Anderson), The Flame of New Orleans (1941), Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Dolly Sisters (1945), Miracle of 34th Street (1947), Merton of the Movies (1947), Out of the Past (1947), Neptune’s Daughter (1949), and The Gift of Love (1958), her last film.

As an extra or a member of the chorus you can also see her in Roman Scandals (1933), Flying Down to Rio (1933), Black Moon (1934), Drums o’ Voodoo (1934), The Green Pastures (1936), Strike Me Pink (1936), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and many others. In the ’50s she appeared on numerous television programs including The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show.

Harris saved and invested wisely and was able to retire comfortably after 1958.